What if the solutions to the Seattle real estate crisis were less complicated than we are?
What if people could get the living space and stability they need to survive and thrive, if they had more accessible, community-based housing options that respect their identity, self-determination, autonomy, and cater to their collective needs?
That’s the premise for Queer the Land, a nearly five-year-old project in Seattle to do just that. After a tough year of negotiation, work, and a steep learning curve, the collective Queer the Land bought a house on Beacon Hill late last month to fill a critical void for queer and transgender people who are black, indigenous, and colored (BIPOC).
The need is urgent. LGBTQ people face high rates of homelessness and poverty and experience widespread discrimination in housing, lending and homelessness services. For example, one in five transgender people has become homeless at some point in their life. For queer and trans-BIPOC people, the differences are even greater – compounded by racial discrimination and the racial wealth gap.
Queer the Land House is pushing back against the displacement and gentrification that have affected Seattle’s queer and transgender blacks.
Funded by a combination of individual donors, collective members, and grants from the City’s Equitable Development Initiative and others, the 12-bedroom home provides both transitional and permanent housing for those in greatest need. The house is part of a land trust and is paid for in full. With the support of Queer the Land members and the community, residents will set their own operating and contribution structure.
In addition to living, the Queer the Land house will have an edible landscape, community food garden, pantry, community, office and healing space and will be the basis for the group’s mutual relief efforts. For the next year, the group will focus on upgrades to make the house fully accessible on the principles of universal design for people of all ages and ability to use. The group expects the first residents to move in after the work is completed.
Queer the Land member and co-founder Kalayo Pestaño said the project was a response to housing insecurity that its members were experiencing for themselves. The crowdfunding and other emergency measures that parishioners used for housing and basic needs only went so far. They wanted something that was permanent, community-led, and accountable.
“This was created as a long-term solution to the real estate crisis, especially as it affects trans and queer black and brown people,” said Pestaño.
Evana Enabulele, the Queer the Land Housing coordinator, has seen housing instability and knows firsthand how difficult it is to focus on other needs when your housing is on shaky ground.
“If your case is stable, everything else can eventually become stable,” said Enabulele.
But it’s not just about putting a roof over a person’s head, it’s also about changing the dynamics that prevail in some affordable living spaces with saviors or rigid bureaucracy. “People just want to go home and go to sleep,” said Enabulele. “I feel like I am in American society, [some housing providers] Just think everyone is trying to get over them for some reason. And that’s all I’ve ever felt in low-income housing. … What I would have wanted was just to be considered in these decisions instead of just being told that this is what you are being given. ”
In contrast, the Queer the Land house will operate “at the speed of trust,” as Pestaño put it. The group itself will decide how to function and decisions will be made collectively.
Buying the house was not easy. The base project did not have the resources or infrastructure of large nonprofits or large developers. They had help from pro bono lawyers, one of whom had originally signed for a month but worked for a year and then joined Queer the Land as an ally.
Pestaño said getting the house was “the hardest thing I’ve ever done”. However, they were determined to be a model that could be replicated for others in the Seattle area or across the country, ultimately creating a network of similar projects.
When I asked Pestaño and Enabulele if Seattle was making solving the housing crisis more difficult than necessary, they both said an emphatic yes. Pestaño said, “How many more research projects and focus groups do we need? I feel like it always has been. “What if, instead of more years of process and bureaucracy, existing apartments were made available for people to live in? Do you live that the community itself has control over the operation?
“It makes such a big difference to know that you have something to rest at at the end of the day,” said Pestaño. “To know that your home and other needs are taken care of and that the people around you have you.”
[email protected]; on Twitter: @naomiishisaka. Naomi Ishisaka is the Seattle Times Assistant Editor-in-Chief for Diversity, Inclusion and People Development. Her column on race, culture, justice and social justice appears weekly on Mondays.